Archive for April, 2019

Review of Pay Attention, Carter Jones, by Gary D. Schmidt

Thursday, April 4th, 2019

Pay Attention, Carter Jones

by Gary D. Schmidt

Review written March 25, 2019, from a library book
Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), 2019. 217 pages.
Starred Review
2019 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #4 in Children’s Fiction

This book was delightful. I shouldn’t have chosen it to read during Silent Book Club, because I kept coming to spots that made me chuckle. My friend was reading Game of Thrones, and she said it was a little incongruous. Oops!

And yet some serious topics are covered in this book. There’s a little brother who died and an absent father. So that my primary response was chuckling shows that the serious topics were handled with a light touch and my overall response is delight.

Here’s how the book begins:

If it hadn’t been the first day of school, and if my mother hadn’t been crying her eyes out the night before, and if the fuel pump on the Jeep had been doing what a fuel pump on a Jeep is supposed to be doing, and if it hadn’t been raining like an Australian tropical thunderstorm – and I’ve been in one, so I know what it’s like – and if the very last quart of one percent milk hadn’t gone sour and clumped up, then probably my mother would never have let the Butler into our house.

As it was, it was a crazy morning, and Carter Jones was the one who answered the door when the Butler rang their bell.

There’s some confusion, but the Butler, Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick, takes things in hand. It turns out that Carter’s grandfather has died, and in his will, he provided a generous endowment for Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick to now serve his son’s family.

That son is Carter’s father, who is now serving with the military in Germany. But the family can definitely use his services, though Carter’s not so sure he wants someone calling him “Young Master Jones” and requiring him to behave with good manners.

And then the Butler dresses Carter up in white, along with his friend Billy, and takes him to the school football field to learn to play cricket.

It seems like disaster when the eighth grade cross country team sees them – two sixth graders dressed strangely being taught to play cricket by an Englishman. But one thing leads to another, and soon the entire eighth grade cross country team is learning the fine points of playing cricket.

There are tidbits about the game of cricket at the start of each chapter – and I’m still completely confused by the rules. Though I do have a much better idea of how it works than before I picked up this book.

The whole idea of a proper English gentleman’s gentleman dealing with an American sixth-grade boy is what gives this book layers upon layers of humor. Carter Jones, though, is dealing with some big issues – and Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick also has compassion, in his proper English way.

I finished this book with a smile on my face. Completely delightful!

PS: Something else I loved about the book was that the principal was Principal Swietek! And the town is Marysville! Why is that so exciting? We find out who Doug Swietek married from Okay for Now, which was set in Marysville in the sixties. (The principal is female and her first name is given at one point.) Very fun for Gary Schmidt fans. In fact, I reread my review of Okay for Now, and yes I was right that it was the same town. Now I want to reread the book.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Joyful, by Ingrid Fetell Lee

Thursday, April 4th, 2019


The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness

by Ingrid Fetell Lee
read by the author

Hachette Audio, 2018. 9.5 hours on 8 CDs.
Starred Review

I listened to this in audio form, then put the print book on hold so I could pull out the main points for this review. I’m finding I want to read it again.

I’ve read other books on finding joy, most notably Champagne for the Soul, by Mike Mason. This one is very different, not looking at joy from a spiritual or emotional perspective, but from a design perspective. It turns out that certain objects and certain sights can actually spark joy. In this book the author categorizes the types of things that bring joy and tells about visiting places that embody this. It’s a fascinating book and will give you plenty of ideas to try in order to bring joy into your everyday life.

This is a perspective on joy that I never thought of before, and I love it. In the introduction, she talks about finding joy in physical things.

I noticed many moments when people seemed to find real joy in the material world. Gazing at a favorite painting in an art museum or making a sandcastle at the beach, people smiled and laughed, lost in the moment. They smiled, too, at the peachy light of the sunset and at the shaggy dog with the yellow galoshes. And not only did people seem to find joy in the world around them, but many also put a lot of effort into making their immediate environment more delightful. They tended rose gardens, put candles on birthday cakes, and hung lights for the holidays. Why would people do these things if they had no real effect on their happiness?

A body of research is emerging that demonstrates a clear link between our surroundings and our mental health. For example, studies show that people with sunny workspaces sleep better and laugh more than their peers in dimly lit offices, and that flowers improve not only people’s moods but their memory as well. As I delved deeper into these findings, joy started to become less amorphous and abstract to me and more tangible and real. It no longer seemed difficult to attain, the result of years of introspection or disciplined practice. Instead, I began to see the world as a reservoir of positivity that I could turn to at any time. I found that certain places have a kind of buoyancy – a bright corner café, a local yarn shop, a block of brownstones whose window boxes overflow with blooms – and I started changing my routines to visit them more often. On bad days, rather than feeling overwhelmed and helpless, I discovered small things that could reliably lift my spirits. I started incorporating what I learned into my home and began to feel a sense of excitement as I put my key into the lock each evening. Over time, it became clear to me that the conventional wisdom about joy was wrong.

Joy isn’t hard to find at all. In fact, it’s all around us.

The liberating awareness of this simple truth changed my life. As I started to share it with others, I found that many people felt the impulse to seek joy in their surroundings but had been made to feel as if their efforts were misguided. One woman told me that buying cut flowers lifted her spirits for days, but she felt like it was a frivolous indulgence, so she only did it on special occasions. It had never occurred to her that for the price of one of her weekly therapy sessions, she could buy a bunch of flowers every other week for a year. Another described how she had walked into her living room after repainting it and felt an “ahhh” feeling – a sense of relief and lightness that made her wonder why she had waited so long to do it. I realized that we all have an inclination to seek joy in our surroundings, yet we have been taught to ignore it. What might happen if we were to reawaken this instinct for finding joy?

As she studied joy and sought out the aesthetics of joy, she was able to make connections and put them into ten categories.

In all, I identified ten aesthetics of joy, each of which reveals a distinct connection between the feeling of joy and the tangible qualities of the world around us:

Energy: vibrant color and light
Abundance: lushness, multiplicity, and variety
Freedom: nature, wildness, and open space
Harmony: balance, symmetry, and flow
Play: circles, spheres, and bubbly forms
Surprise: contrast and whimsy
Transcendence: elevation and lightness
Magic: invisible forces and illusions
Celebration: synchrony, sparkle, and bursting shapes
Renewal: blossoming, expansion, and curves

The ten chapters of the book delve into these ten aesthetics in lovely rambling detail. They give ideas for how you can build them into your own life, but in many cases tell about someone who has indulged in this particular aesthetic in a big way – with striking results.

The final chapter in the print book wasn’t included in the audiobook (unless there were extra files I didn’t notice) – a Joy Toolkit with worksheets to fill out to help you fill your own life with joy.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

The 2019 Walter Awards Presentation

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2019

Last Friday, March 29, I got to attend the Walter Awards at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. The Walter Awards are sponsored by and named in honor of Walter Dean Myers. A Symposium was held in the morning featuring the Honor Award winners, and the awards were presented after a coffee break.

Ellen Oh spoke first. She was the one who began WeNeedDiverseBooks with a hashtag on twitter five years ago. Since then, they incorporated, and have distributed all the benefits I mentioned in the first post, and this is the fourth year of the Walter Awards.

It’s not just about seeing ourselves. It’s also about reading the stories of others. It’s about building empathy in children. They need books that accurately reflect the world they live in.

The first year of the Walter Awards, they had 50 submissions. This year, there were 244 submissions. They are proud of the good work they are doing!

The executive director of WNDB, Nicole Johnson, spoke next. Their authors are saying, “We see you!”

The emcee for the awards was Linda Sue Park. She first told a story about Walter Dean Myers. He listened to her when she wanted to make a difference. When she floated the idea of internships in publishing, he told her that was the right track. For the next few years, she talked about internships to anyone who would listen. Now she’s the honorary chair of the internship program. “We’re doing it, Walter!”

Chris Myers spoke next, in honor of his father. He said it’s nice to hear so many nice things about his dad and almost makes him forget the other things! Chris told about a trip he took to Papua New Guinea. When he got off the boat on a small island, the villagers were excited to see someone get off the boat who wasn’t white.

They had no mirrors on the island or photos or electricity. He was struck by the immediacy of what he could do – he painted all the kids on the island. The universality of that problem struck him – we’re all starved for images.

Then he talked about the group of us gathered in honor of diverse books. We’re all Family. We’ve got characters and conflicts and cool uncles (Jason Reynolds). Five years in is a good time to note our common mission and conflicts. I know we’re on the same side even if I don’t like your approach to solving the problems.

But we’re family. We need to have creative fights together. Our job is to say, “We can do better.” This family has continuity.

We’re on an island with few images. Sit there and draw every kid.

Thank you for keeping that continuity going.

Then it was time for the Awards! We’d already heard from the Honor authors in the Symposium panel, so they accepted their awards with applause. The Winners each gave an acceptance speech.

The Honor winners in the Younger Readers’ category were David Bowles for They Call Me Güero and Veera Hiranandani for The Night Diary. The 2019 Walter Award winner for Younger Readers was Jewell Parker Rhodes for Ghost Boys.

Her editor Alvina Ling asked her to write this book. Her own child was growing and becoming more and more subject to racism. And images of Emmett Till have haunted her for 65 years, leaving a stew of passion in her heart.

Her other books were practice for this one. In fact, the adult books she’s written were practice to get good enough to write for children.

This book nearly undid her. It took years and came out in bits and pieces. Who was her lodestar? Walter Dean Myers. His commitment to excellence shines. She got to meet him when she wrote her first book, Ninth Ward, and she fan-girled shamelessly. He inspired her to keep writing Ghost Boys.

She always thought Emmett Till was innocent, but she’d already written that scene of the book before the truth came out and the woman admitted that she’d lied. She told what had really happened, and Jewell was able to rewrite that scene.

Another change was made after the ARC was already printed – she realized she needed to add a beat that Carlos could also have been shot for playing with a toy gun.

Then she told us a secret: In 2014, her daughter had a baby and in the same year applied for a WNDB fellowship. Her book will be published next year! WNDB is changing the world.

She finished by saying, “Even if I never publish another book, this was the book I was meant to write.”

Next came the presentation of the awards in the Teen category. Tiffany Jackson received an Honor for Monday’s Not Coming, and Emily X. R. Pan received an Honor for The Astonishing Color of After. Elizabeth Acevedo was the 2019 Walter Award Winner in the Teen category for The Poet X.

Elizabeth Acevedo began her acceptance speech talking about when she was an 8th grade English teacher in a school with many African American kids and many Latinx kids. But she was the first Afri-Latinx teacher in a major subject at that school. She felt “simultaneously seen and invisible.” It was at the intersection of many parts of her life.

She had to teach them how to love reading, because “if they love to read, they will figure it out.”

The kids asked her, “Where are the books about us?” She provided all she could find. Then they asked, “What’s next?”

That’s what prompted her to write for young people. That was the spark. She wanted the kids to see themselves.

She read Walter Dean Myers and interned at the Library of Congress, so it feels like a homecoming to be in this space.

She was writing for young people in the first place, writing in secret, not knowing if anyone would read it. She worked on it for years.

Then in 2014, Walter Dean Myers wrote, “Where are the people of color in children’s books?”

She is so honored to win this award. Those words emboldened her to keep writing. They told her there is room for her in publishing and a need for the stories she wants to tell. In another connection, her editor was also the editor of Walter Dean Myers for many years. Today’s an arrival of sorts.

Write about people of all backgrounds.

Writing love onto the page is pivotal.

Writing can be healing – for the writer and the reader.

She wants to write characters as nuanced as the people she loves.


After the Awards Ceremony, there was a book signing. Since I already had a copy of almost all the books from my year on the Newbery committee, I didn’t purchase any more, but hung out behind the official photographers taking pictures of the awardees.

And, yes, I took a minute to introduce myself to Meg Medina, “our” Newbery Medal winner!

Review of Sweety, by Andrea Zuill

Monday, April 1st, 2019


by Andrea Zuill

Schwartz & Wade Books, 2019. 32 pages.

Sweety is a picture book about Sweety, a naked mole rat (who wears clothes) with unconventional habits and preferences. She’s an oddball and has trouble making friends.

I wasn’t crazy about it, not being particularly taken with the art, and sure I’ve heard this story before.

But then, a scene resonated! I realized: This is a picture book for people who have tried online dating!

Here are the pages that spoke to me, though the art does add so much:

Aunt Ruth said that being different was one of the best things about her life, and that if you stayed true to yourself, you’d find your people.

That made Sweety think.

Were there really people out there for her? How would they recognize her? How would she recognize them? Was there a secret handshake she’d have to learn?

She really hoped there was a secret handshake.

Sweety wondered how many times she’d been close to one of her people and not known it.

What if she stepped it up a notch? Would her people be able to spot her more easily?

[Shouting through a bullhorn:] My name is Sweety. I like dancing, mushrooms, and rainy days. You too? Need to find your people? Maybe we’re a match! Flyers are available.

[Picture of Sweety leading a parade of wagons with pictures of herself and her favorite activities.]

[Picture of Sweety in a mushroom costume dancing with fireworks.] Or would she just seem desperate?

For now, she’d trust Aunt Ruth, continue to do her favorite things, and be herself.

And maybe she’d try a couple of new hobbies just for fun.

After all, being Sweety wasn’t so bad.

The book does end with Sweety meeting a fellow mushroom-lover and making a secret handshake.

But I now have a go-to book for those times when I feel like “my people” just aren’t noticing me. A picture book for online dating!

I’m going to continue to do my favorite things and be myself.

And, okay, kids can get a nice message out of it, too.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

The Walter Awards Symposium 2019

Monday, April 1st, 2019

On Friday, March 29, 2019, I got to attend the Walter Awards at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.

The Walter Awards are named after Walter Dean Myers, and are sponsored by WNDB,

I was familiar with #WeNeedDiverseBooks when it was a hashtag, and was delighted to learn all the organization has been able to accomplish in its five years of existence. They have given sixteen grants to aspiring authors and illustrators, including Angie Thomas, who went on to write the bestselling book The Hate U Give. They have awarded 33 internship grants, and 22 of those recipients have gone on to get full-time jobs in publishing. They have enabled 38 mentorships between upcoming writers and illustrators with veterans, and several of those mentees have secured book deals. They have also donated over 14,000 diverse books to economically disadvantaged schools nationwide.

This is the fourth year of the Walter Awards, and I hope to make attendance at this event an annual experience.

The first event of the morning was a symposium with the theme, “Read. Discover. Grow.” Meg Medina was the moderator. She is the author of this year’s Newbery Medal winner, Merci Suarez Changes Gears, and she was a big part of why I made the effort to come to the awards. (It was awesome – in the future I will come for the awards alone.)

The panelists were the honor book winners: Tiffany Jackson, author of Monday’s Not Coming; Emily X. R. Pan, author of The Astonishing Color of After; David Bowles, author of They Call Me Güero; and Veera Hiranandani, author of The Night Diary (a Newbery Honor book).

Meg Medina began with the question, How did you find this story?

TJ: It was based on her background.

EP: Her grandmother’s stories started it. And it spoke about identity and fear. She wrote it several times, with different casts of characters – but the grandmother was always the same.

DB: It was meant to be a collection of poems at first. An editor who read the poems said they wanted 50 more poems in that kid’s voice. It took a while, but once he got to know the character, the poems flowed out.

VH: Finding your voice and the character’s voice has layers. She was inspired by her own father’s experiences but wasn’t sure how to access it. She had a boy main character at first, but didn’t want to write just her father’s story. The diary format was what it took to reach the voice.

MM: How did you decide the form to use?

TJ: It’s a series of Befores and Afters. She wanted people to get to know the girls and their relationship. She didn’t want Monday to be just another dead girl. She wanted her to live on the page. She also wanted it to be an experience like her character – all over the place.

She originally wrote it in linear format. Then woke up at two in the morning and realized she could rearrange the scenes.

MM: How did your background affect your writing?

TJ: Her background in film made her ready to rearrange the scenes.

EP: “My background is all over the place and so is my book.” Her life would be simpler if she could write linearly. When the book was sold, it was more of a fantasy novel.

DB: He was an English teacher for 14 years, then got his doctorate, and now is a university professor. He asked himself, What do teachers need? He had the character experimenting with poetic forms. The editor said it was like a textbook, and he had to rethink his approach.

VH: She’s an editor, but not a great line editor – not that detail-oriented. But she is a writing teacher, and doesn’t attach herself to any particular draft, because she knows it will change. She is a linear writer. Using a diary format helped her to limit herself – to that character’s perspective – and helped keep the writing manageable.

MM: Everything you’ve done in your whole life makes you a writer.

MM: Talk about how we write about the nuances of our communities.

EP: It’s a matter of being honest. When you start out, you try to write the perfect character. That’s not actually interesting to read. Put the faults on the page. She had to be willing to delve into things that were difficult to talk about. She tried to capture truth as respectfully as possible. She interviewed lots of people to get more perspectives.

MM: It’s important to have humility when we approach our work, even when it’s about our own community.

DB: He looks forward to the day when we don’t have to talk about diversity. Güero means light-skinned Mexican American. He’s the most privileged in his family because of that. He’s in the liminal space, neither one nor the other. He looks white, but then he isn’t.

VH: She understands the idea of being in between. Her mother is Jewish, born in America, and her father is Hindu from India. She asked herself if she can even do this. She wanted her character to be asking where she belongs. Her whole life, she’s been managing multiple identities. She looks and asks, Where can I connect deeply with this story? Then she asks, What research do I need?

TJ: The book is set in southeast DC. Berry Farms is the actual place it’s based on – a notorious housing project. There they had gentrification on speed, and the entire community was evicted. She changed the name in order not to put more negative light on the community. There’s a delicate balance between perpetuating stereotypes and telling the truth. She can see the beauty in the community, and she wants to get that across.

MM: We feel the weight of our community’s dirty laundry.

MM: Let’s talk about writing hard, emotional truths for children. What do you ask yourself?

TJ: She’s kind of known for gut-punching people. We grossly underestimate what kids can handle. She wants her stories to be raw.

DB: It’s dangerous to start off trying to protect the kids. He deliberately tries to tap into raw things. If he doesn’t weep during the writing, something’s wrong. Be the person who holds the kids’ hands and walks with them through the darkness.

EP: She was in a fugue state writing the opening pages. She’d lost her aunt to suicide the year before. When her grandpa died, her parents waited to tell her and when they did, said, “You don’t need to be upset.” She was trying to grapple with many issues. The first draft was for herself.

She needed to talk about how depression affects the whole family. Later she could think about how to protect the reader. To allow for the safe space. Her book provides a safe space for someone to have something fictional to cry about in place of something real.

MM: Veera, you show violence adults do in full view of children.

VH: When people who lived through Partition talk about “the trains,” they mean trains full of corpses. How to show the truth of this history? There’s a certain urgency. People who lived through it are now in their 80s and 90s. The true history is so violent. What can kids handle? She tried to make the raw story something they could handle.

MM: What a career this is! What has surprised, delighted, and shocked you about being a writer?

TJ: She thought it was a solo career! She’s surprised at how many people she actually has to talk to. At school visits, the kids keep her humble. It’s a joyous surprise.

EP: She’s perpetually surprised when an Asian-American reader says, “I didn’t realize we could do this.” She’s the first Asian-American author they’ve seen. That’s both good and bad.

DB: He’s surprised by how incredibly edifying it is to be part of a community of writers of color. There’s solidarity.

VH: It’s healing. She’s welcomed into so many writing communities. She wasn’t sure if she’s allowed, being half-Indian. “It’s okay being me.”

MM: We enjoy the company of people who live in their imaginations. She’s so excited to be writing books in the time of these people here.

[Then the audience asked questions.]

Question: How did you find the ending?

TJ: Her book was inspired by real cases, so she knew the ending from the start. She used the real case and worked on making sense of the tragedy. She wants to understand how these things happen.

Question: How did your family react to your book?

EP: My parents haven’t finished reading it. My family isn’t prepared for how honest I am. She did reach out to her parents and cousins when she began writing it. Her parents had always said, “Don’t let people know there’s depression in your family.” We need to talk about these things. She’s always been more vocal than her parents want her to be. But they are now becoming more open, and her mother has said that now she wants to write about their family.

That was the last question, and we had a break before the awards ceremony, which I’ll report on soon.